Regression Vs Classification — Understand How To Choose And Switch Between Them

by | May 2, 2023 | Data Science, Machine Learning

Classification vs regression are two of the most common types of machine learning problems. Classification involves predicting a categorical outcome, such as whether an email is spam or not, while regression involves predicting a numerical outcome, such as the price of a house based on its features. Both classification and regression are important tools for solving real-world problems and making accurate predictions.

In this context, it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and when to use one or the other. This involves understanding the differences between classification and regression, the types of algorithms and techniques that are commonly used in each case, and the various evaluation metrics that are used to assess the performance of machine learning models. By understanding these concepts, we can build better models and make more accurate predictions in a wide range of applications.

What is classification?

Classification is a supervised machine learning algorithm that predicts a categorical or discrete output variable based on input variables. The input variables are often called features or predictors, while the output variable is called the class or label.

A classification algorithm aims to learn a mapping function from input to output variables based on a labelled training dataset. The training dataset consists of instances, each associated with a class label. The algorithm uses this labelled data to build a model to predict the class label of new, unseen cases based on their input variables.

Several classification algorithms exist, including decision trees, random forests, logistic regression, and support vector machines (SVMs).

Classification algorithms have many applications, including image recognition, natural language processing, fraud detection, and credit scoring.

Advantages of classification

Classification has several advantages as a machine learning technique:

  1. Interpretability: Classification models are often highly interpretable, making it easier to understand how the model makes predictions and which features or predictors are most important.
  2. Accuracy: Classification models can often achieve high levels of accuracy in predicting categorical outcomes, such as whether a customer will buy a product or not.
  3. Ease of Use: Classification models are often relatively easy to implement and require minimal data preprocessing, making them a good choice for beginners or quick prototyping.
  4. Scalability: Classification models can often be scaled up to handle large datasets or high-dimensional feature spaces, making them suitable for various applications.
  5. Robustness: Classification models are often robust to noise and missing data, making them a good choice for data with a high degree of variability or uncertainty.

What is regression?

Regression is a supervised machine learning algorithm that predicts a continuous numerical output variable based on input variables. The input variables are often called features or predictors, while the output variable is called the target or dependent variable.

A regression algorithm aims to learn a mapping function from input to output variables based on a labelled training dataset. The training dataset consists of instances associated with a numerical target value. The algorithm uses this labelled data to build a model to predict the target value of new, unseen cases based on their input variables.

Several regression algorithms exist, including linear regression, polynomial regression, decision tree regression, and random forest regression. Each algorithm has its strengths and weaknesses, and the choice of algorithm depends on the specific problem at hand and the characteristics of the data.

Regression algorithms have many applications, including predicting stock prices, estimating housing prices, forecasting sales, and modelling customer behaviour.

Advantages of regression

Regression has several advantages as a machine learning technique:

  1. Predictive Power: Regression is a powerful technique for predicting numerical values, such as sales, stock prices, or patient outcomes. Regression models can identify patterns and relationships in the data that can help predict future values with a high degree of accuracy.
  2. Flexibility: Regression is a flexible technique used to model various relationships between variables. For example, linear regression can model linear relationships between variables, while polynomial regression can model more complex nonlinear relationships.
  3. Interpretability: Regression models are often highly interpretable, making understanding the relationships between variables and how they affect the outcome easier. This can be especially useful in domains such as healthcare or finance, where understanding the underlying factors driving an outcome is critical.
  4. Feature Importance: Regression models can identify the most important features or predictors driving the outcome variable. This information can be used to inform decision-making and guide further investigations.
  5. Robustness: Regression models are often robust to noise and outliers in the data, making them a good choice for data with high variability or noise.

What is the difference between them: regression vs classification?

Regression and classification are two essential types of supervised learning in machine learning.

Regression predicts a continuous value, while classifications predict a category.

Regression predicts a continuous value, while classifications predict a category.

Regression is a predictive modelling technique that models the relationship between a dependent variable and one or more independent variables. Regression analysis aims to estimate the dependent variable’s value based on the independent variables’ importance. The dependent variable is continuous, meaning it can take on any numeric value within a range. 

Regression is used to predict the dependent variable’s future values based on the independent variables’ known values. Examples of regression models include linear, polynomial, and logistic regression.

On the other hand, classification is a predictive modelling technique used to classify or categorize a given data point into one of several predefined classes or categories. The goal of classification is to learn a mapping between input variables and a set of output variables that are discrete and categorical. Examples of classification models include decision trees, random forests, support vector machines, and neural networks.

In summary, regression is used to predict continuous values, while classification is used to predict discrete or categorical values.

Regression vs classification: how to choose between them?

When deep diving into the requirements of your machine learning model, it will often become apparent whether you are dealing with a classification problem or a regression problem. Still, this decision isn’t necessarily set in stone. You can often rephrase a problem, look at it from different angles, and switch between the two.

In this section, we hope to help you learn how to switch between the two by providing examples and benefits. The ultimate goal is to better understand the two techniques, the advantages and disadvantages, so that you can make a better decision for your problem.

Regression vs classification: How can you convert a classification to a regression problem?

It is not always possible to convert directly between classification and regression problems as they involve different data types and have other objectives. However, some techniques can be used to convert between the two types of issues in certain situations.

One way to convert a classification problem into a regression problem is to assign numerical values to each class label and then treat the problem as a regression problem.

For example, if we have a classification problem with three classes (A, B, and C), we could assign the values 1, 2, and 3 to each category. Then, we can train a regression model to predict these numerical values for each input instance and then round the predicted values to the nearest integer to get the expected class.

Conversely, we can also convert a regression problem into a classification problem by dividing the range of the dependent variable into a set of discrete categories or bins. We can then treat the problem as a multi-class classification problem, where the goal is to classify each instance into one of the predefined categories or bins. This technique is known as binning or discretization.

Example of turning a classification problem into a regression problem

One example of turning a classification problem into a regression problem could be to predict the probability of a binary outcome, such as whether or not a customer will purchase a product. In a traditional classification problem, the output would be a binary label (i.e., purchased or not purchased). However, we can convert this into a regression problem by predicting the purchase probability, a continuous variable ranging from 0 to 1.

To do this, we can use a logistic regression algorithm, which is a type of regression algorithm that is commonly used for binary classification problems. The logistic regression algorithm will output a probability score for each instance, which can be interpreted as the predicted purchase probability. We can then set a threshold for this probability score (e.g., 0.5) to classify the instances into two classes (i.e., purchased or not purchased).

By turning a classification problem into a regression problem in this way, we can gain additional insights into the data and improve the accuracy of our predictions. For example, we can use regression evaluation metrics, such as mean squared error or mean absolute error, to measure the performance of our model and make further improvements.

Benefits of turning a classification problem into a regression problem

Converting a classification problem into a regression problem can have several potential benefits, including:

  1. Increased predictive accuracy: By converting a classification problem into a regression problem, we can use more sophisticated regression algorithms that may be better suited to modelling the data and making predictions. This can lead to higher predictive accuracy compared to using traditional classification algorithms.
  2. Better insight into the data: Regression models provide a continuous output that can be easily visualized and analyzed. This can give better insights into the relationship between the independent and dependent variables and help identify patterns and trends in the data that may not be immediately apparent with classification models.
  3. More flexibility in modelling: Regression models offer greater flexibility in modelling the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. For example, we can use polynomial or spline regression to model non-linear relationships, which is impossible with classification models.
  4. Easier integration with other models: Regression models can be easily integrated with other regression models, which can be helpful when building more complex models. This is not possible with classification models, which are typically stand-alone.

Overall, converting a classification problem into a regression problem can be helpful when traditional classification models are unsuitable or we want to gain better insights into the data.

Example of turning a regression problem into a classification problem

One example of turning a regression problem into a classification problem could be to predict the likelihood of a binary outcome based on a continuous variable.

For instance, we want to predict whether a patient has diabetes based on their blood sugar level. In a traditional regression problem, the output would be a constant numerical value representing the patient’s blood sugar level. However, we can convert this into a binary classification problem by predicting the likelihood of the patient having diabetes or not.

To do this, we can set a threshold value for the blood sugar level above which a patient is more likely to have diabetes. For example, suppose the threshold is set at 140 mg/dL. Then, patients with a blood sugar level above 140 mg/dL will be classified as having diabetes, and those with a blood sugar level below 140 mg/dL will be classified as not having diabetes.

We can use a logistic regression algorithm to perform this classification task. First, the algorithm will learn a mapping function from the blood sugar level to the binary class label of diabetes or not diabetes. Then, the algorithm will output a probability score for each instance, which can be interpreted as the predicted likelihood of the patient having diabetes.

By turning a regression problem into a classification problem in this way, we can make predictions that are more actionable and easier to interpret. We can also use classification evaluation metrics such as accuracy, precision, recall, and F1-score to measure the performance of our model and further improve it.

Regression vs classification: benefits of turning a regression problem into a classification problem

Converting a regression problem into a classification problem can have several potential benefits, including:

  1. The problem’s simplicity: Classification problems are typically more straightforward to understand than regression problems. By converting a regression problem into a classification problem, we can simplify it and make it easier to interpret the results.
  2. Better interpretability: Classification models provide categorical outputs that can be easily interpreted and understood. This can be particularly useful in applications where the results must be communicated to non-technical stakeholders.
  3. Robustness to outliers: Classification models are typically more robust to outliers and data errors than regression models. This is because classification models only focus on the categorical relationship between the input and output variables rather than the exact numerical relationship.
  4. Better handling of imbalanced data: Imbalanced data, where one class is much more prevalent than the others, can be a challenge in classification problems. However, several techniques, such as oversampling and undersampling, can be used to handle imbalanced data in classification models.
  5. More flexible evaluation metrics: Classification models have a more comprehensive range of evaluation metrics that can be used to measure model performance, such as precision, recall, F1-score, and the AUC-ROC curve. These metrics are designed explicitly for classification problems and can provide more nuanced insights into model performance than traditional regression metrics like mean squared error.

Converting a regression problem into a classification problem can be helpful when the issue is better suited to a categorical output or when we want to simplify the problem and make it more interpretable. However, it is essential to carefully consider the characteristics of the data and the specific situation before deciding whether to use this technique.

Conclusion

Classification vs regression are two fundamental concepts in machine learning that are used to make predictions based on input variables. Classification algorithms are used to predict categorical or discrete output variables, while regression algorithms are used to predict continuous numerical output variables.

Sometimes, it may be beneficial to convert a classification problem into a regression problem or vice versa. By doing so, we can gain additional insights into the data and improve the accuracy of our predictions. However, the decision to convert a problem type should be based on the specific problem at hand and the characteristics of the data.

Ultimately, the choice classification vs regression depends on the problem we are trying to solve and the nature of the data we are working with. Therefore, understanding the differences and choosing the appropriate algorithm and evaluation metrics is essential.

About the Author

Neri Van Otten

Neri Van Otten

Neri Van Otten is the founder of Spot Intelligence, a machine learning engineer with over 12 years of experience specialising in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and deep learning innovation. Dedicated to making your projects succeed.

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